In the end, there was chaos. The play calling was iffy, the pace was stressful and the execution was … brilliant?
TCU delivered yet another thrilling come-from-behind win over Baylor, keeping its perfect season intact with a walk-off field goal as time expired. It wasn’t easy or pretty, which was a theme that hit just about every College Football Playoff contender this weekend. In the end, however, TCU won.
It was weird and confusing, but the outcome was familiar.
For only the second time this year, TCU failed to cover a spread. When you consider where we are in the calendar, that's pretty remarkable. The Horned Frogs aren’t just a great story; they are one of the surest things in college football right now.
They are also a complicated evaluation. The style of play (and wins) certainly gives off the impression that TCU is vulnerable. And while the strength of schedule has been so much better than many give this team credit for, it’s also a matter of interpretation.
The Horned Frogs beat four consecutive ranked teams earlier this year: Oklahoma, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. It goes without saying that most of these teams, except for Kansas State, have struggled since.
Should these wins be evaluated for what they were back then or what they are now? The answer, for many, is likely somewhere in between.
No matter where you stand on the discussion, one thing isn’t up for debate: TCU is two wins away from reaching the College Football Playoff, and there are no more road games to be played.
And if we're going to knock TCU weekly, let's at least spread it around. Every playoff contender looked certifiably “meh” in Week 12. Heck, Tennessee allowed a football team to post a basketball score on them.
So, why not TCU?
The Horned Frogs are now 18-1 to win the national championship. Earlier this year, you could have bet them at 150-1 or higher. Early on Saturday, you could have had the Horned Frogs at 30-1. Tennessee’s loss jostled those odds (and others) a great deal.
Still, it feels like TCU is going to need two more wins to get into the playoff. One could make an argument that the Horned Frogs have played well enough to lose a game. But without a conference championship, TCU’s chaotic year might not propel them forward.
We shall see, although one reality remains: no team has been more fun to watch each and every week than this one.
Godspeed, purple frogs.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Let’s talk a bit more about the mess that was Saturday.
Tennessee is very much out; this much we know. The Vols’ 65-38 loss to South Carolina was huge for USC, Clemson and the Big Ten. As we take inventory, we can make a few assumptions. Georgia is in the playoff with a win over Georgia Tech this week. If LSU wins the SEC championship game, it could secure a spot depending on what happens with TCU and USC. The Big Ten has one spot. TCU, Clemson and the loser of Ohio State-Michigan are the only other teams in consideration. North Carolina’s loss simplifies the equation. There are four spots left and seven possible teams.
2. Hendon Hooker’s season and college career are over.
This sport can be cruel, and it was on Saturday. During Tennessee’s meltdown against South Carolina, Hooker was tackled awkwardly. On Sunday, Tennessee confirmed that the quarterback suffered a torn ACL. The Vols also announced that Hooker would focus on his rehab and his NFL future. It was a terrible way for it all to end, but what a season it was. Hooker, who was the Heisman favorite for more than a week, had an enormous impact on Tennessee’s season and the trajectory of the program. I just hate to see it end like that.
2. The Heisman certainly feels like it’s down to two players.
Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (-125) and USC’s Caleb Williams (+130) feel like the last remaining true candidates. North Carolina’s loss eliminated Drake Maye, and a knee injury certainly hurt Michigan running back Blake Corum’s chances. (A big game and win against Ohio State could change that discussion.) As for the two QBs, Williams has a ton of momentum after an enormous showing against UCLA. Stroud has a slight edge, but this could change quickly.
4. Florida lost to Vanderbilt, which is something that should never happen.
First and foremost, kudos to Vandy. The Commodores won outright as a 14-point underdog, marking the second time in two weeks they’ve won as a big dog. They are rapidly improving, and you love to see it. However, we need to talk about Florida. Woof. The Gators are 6-5, and their Week 1 upset over Utah feels like a distant memory. It is striking how far this once-dominant program has fallen so fast.
5. We need to talk about Stanford, which kicked one of the strangest field goals I have ever seen.
Down 10 points to Cal, the Cardinal trotted out kicker Joshua Karty to try a 61-yard field goal. Karty connected on a heck of a kick, and Stanford ultimately lost 27-20. The game ended right there. Again, peculiar. What was the total in this game, you ask? Well, it was 46.5. And the Stanford team total was 19.5. I don’t know why coach David Shaw chose to kick this field goal, but it certainly thrilled many and titled plenty of others.
6. Ohio State and Michigan will play in one of the coolest football games we’ve seen in some time.
We’ll go in depth below, but we really need to celebrate this matchup for all that it will bring. It’s perhaps the greatest rivalry in college football, and the stakes are enormous. With a conference title and a spot in the playoff up for grabs, the energy for this game should be downright wild. I simply cannot wait.
7. Let’s talk about Thanksgiving, the greatest holiday of them all.
Last year, I talked about frying turkeys. Seriously, it will change your life. This year, we’re celebrating the importance of brining. I use salt and brown sugar, and then I add oranges, onions and garlic into a wet brine. Normally, I brine my bird for 24-36 hours. Whether you fry or not, a solid brine is enough. Oh, and inject your turkeys. That’s Level 2.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. No. 2 Ohio State (-8.5, 57.5) vs. No. 3 Michigan
The status of Wolverines running back Blake Corum must be monitored throughout the week. Early indications are that Corum avoided a major knee injury; what that means for Saturday remains to be seen. Injuries are also a factor on Ohio State’s side at the position. At this point, we also don’t know when (or if) we will see wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba again. As for last weekend, neither team was particularly impressive. Ohio State was never close to covering the 26-point spread against Maryland. The Buckeyes have failed to cover in three of their past four games. And Michigan, which was favored by 17 over Illinois, was lucky to come away victorious. Home field, of course, looms large in a matchup like this, and the questions surrounding Corum’s health make this a hard game to handicap. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach on that front, although the Under seems like a solid early lean.
2. No. 5 USC (-5.5, 63) vs. No. 13 Notre Dame
Given where Notre Dame was six weeks ago, the fact that this game is wildly compelling is somewhat shocking. Marcus Freeman’s group is now 8-3, having won seven of its last eight games. The Irish have also covered the spread in three of the last four. USC, meanwhile, is coming off a thrilling win over UCLA with the playoff squarely in focus. The Trojans have played in a slew of close games down the stretch, and they have managed to come away unscathed. Offensively, USC has a pretty sizable advantage in this game, although the Irish are an interesting team with a ton of momentum. I can’t help but wonder how much emotion USC used in Saturday’s win.
3. No. 10 Oregon (-3.5, 57.5) at No. 22 Oregon State
Please don’t sleep on this wonderful football game. While we will certainly give games involving playoff teams plenty of time, this rivalry game is about as intriguing as it's been in some time. For Oregon, you have to wonder just how healthy QB Bo Nix will be in this matchup. There were questions surrounding his availability last week. Nix played, although you could tell by the end he wasn’t moving well. The Ducks covered a spread that moved around plenty, although it didn’t come easy. For Oregon State, pretty much everything has come easily of late. The Beavers have covered the spread in five straight, and they have quietly become one of the more underappreciated teams in all of CFB. I'm digging the home dog early on.
4. No. 21 Cincinnati (-2.5, 47) vs. No. 19 Tulane
In terms of Group of Five matchups, they rarely get much better than this. Cincinnati, which crashed last year’s playoff, has delivered a worthy encore season despite losing a ton of talent. The Bearcats, however, haven’t been great against the spread. Saturday’s win over Temple was the first time Cincinnati covered a spread since Week 4. Tulane, which blasted SMU last week, has been magical ATS. The Green Wave have failed to cover only twice this year. In terms of importance, this is a big one. If Tulane wins, it will lock up the regular-season AAC title and host the title game. But playing at Cincinnati as a slight dog will be no small task.
5. No. 7 Clemson (-14.5, 50) vs. South Carolina
We could have gone with a few games in this spot, although the matchup has a ton of juice after lowing South Carolina’s massive upset of Tennessee. The Gamecocks didn’t just win outright as a 22.5-point dog; they blasted the Vols. QB Spencer Rattler, who has struggled this year, was sensational against Tennessee. When he plays like that, he looks like one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the sport. Clemson did its part against Miami, covering the 19.5-point spread with ease. (The Hurricanes are bad.) The question is simple: which South Carolina team and QB are we going to get? As good as the Gamecocks were, it wouldn’t shock me to see Clemson win this one comfortably.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
No. 8 Alabama (-22, 49) vs. Auburn
Could Carnell Williams become Auburn’s full-time head coach with a win? It’s one of many interesting subplots in this game that comes with a massive point spread. This game has been weird before (see: last year), and perhaps it will be again. Alabama isn’t exactly dazzling right now.
No. 12 Washington (-2.5, 58.5) at Washington State
Like Oregon-Oregon State, the Apple Cup should be a doozy. While Washington has really found itself late in the season, Washington State is no pushover. As always in this matchup, keep an eye on the weather.
No. 20 Ole Miss (-3, 63.5) vs. Mississippi State
Ah, yes. Thanksgiving football. Ole Miss comes into this game limping, and the rumors surrounding Lane Kiffin’s coaching future are swirling. Regardless, this game will undoubtedly be weird, which it usually is. God Bless the Egg Bowl.